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Northern Kentucky vs Houston Predictions & Odds for NCAA Tournament First Round

Eric Rosales

by Eric Rosales in College Basketball

Updated Mar 15, 2023 · 5:00 PM PDT

Marcus Sasser celebrates with Jamal Shead
Mar 5, 2023; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser (0) reacts with guard Jamal Shead (1) after he scored the game winning basket against the Memphis Tigers at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
  • No. 1 seed Houston is a 19.5-point favorite over 16-seed Northern Kentucky in Round 1 NCAA Tournament play
  • The Norse have won five straight, while Houston is coming off a loss in the AAC Tournament final
  • See below for the latest Northern Kentucky vs Houston odds, plus analysis and best bets

If defense is your thing, you’ll surely be tuning into First Round play in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region, where the top-seeded Houston Cougars (31-3, 18-16-0) battle the 16th-seed Northern Kentucky Norse (22-12, 14-17-0 ATS).

The Norse have reeled off five straight wins, including an upset of top-seeded Youngstown State in the Horizon League tournament semifinal, before knocking off Cleveland State in the final, finding their way into the March Madness bracket.

Houston, meanwhile had won 22 of their last 23, including 13 straight, before getting dumped by the Memphis Tigers in the final of the American Athletic Conference.

This one goes Thursday (March 16) at 9:20pm ET from the Legacy Arena at BJCC in Birmingham, AL. You can watch the game live on TNT.

Northern Kentucky vs Houston Odds

Team Spread Moneyline Total
[16] Northern Kentucky Norse
+19.5 (-110) +1300 Ov 122.5 (-110)
[1] Houston Cougars
-19.5 (-110) -2800 Un 122.5 (-110)

The Cougars — who, at +550, have the best odds to win the NCAA Tournament — are big 19.5-point favorites and -2800 on the moneyline, an implied win probability of 96.55%. The game features a total of just 122.5.

Northern Kentucky has been an underdog eight times all year, going 3-5 against the spread. Their strength of schedule likely had something to do with that: they were just 259th at KemPom, while the Cougars checked in at 92nd.

The winner of this game moves on to face the winner of no. 8  Iowa vs no. 9 Auburn.


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Odds as of Mar 16 at DraftKings Sportsbook

Northern Kentucky vs Houston Recent Results & Trends

The Norse’s home stretch — where they were literally fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives — should not be overlooked. They eked out a 63-61 win over Cleveland State to clinch the Horizon title. This came a day after upsetting top-seed Youngstown 75-63.

Marques Warrick, son of Syracuse legend Hakim, led the Norse with 18 points, six rebounds and three steals in the final. He’s led Northern Kentucky in scoring in seven of the last eight games, and averaged a team-best 19.1 points this season, including a deft 39.1% clip from distance.

He’s about the only hub of offense to lean on. The Norse average 67.8 points per game (285th) and shoot 43.2% from the field (262nd).

Like the Cougars, though, defense is their calling card. They allow teams to score just 63.3 points per game, which ranks 28th in the NCAA, though their defensive efficiency at KenPom ranks 121st. The Norse turn their opponents over, averaging 9.4 steals per game, tied for 7th-best in hoops and 15.7 turnovers overall (23rd).

If there is one glaring weakness, it’s their inability to defend the three-point line. Teams are hitting at a 36.6% clip, dropping them to a lowly 332nd in the nation.

Northern Kentucky vs Houston Head-to-Head

Northern Kentucky Norse
Houston Cougars
16 Midwest Region Seed 1
22-12 Season Record 31-3
67.8 Points per Game 76.0
63.3 Points Against per Game 56.5
49.8% Effective FG% 52.7%
51.3% Opponent Effective FG% 42.5%

Then again, anything Northern Kentucky can do, Houston can do better, defensively.

The Cougars rank third in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, allowing just 56.5 points per game on the year — second only to North Texas, and just one of four schools that held their opponents to under 60 points per game.

Opponents have a 42.5% effective field goal percentage vs Houston, which is the 3rd-best mark in the NCAA. Teams are shooting only 36.5% from the field and 28% from distance, which both rank second overall, and they are first in blocked shot percentage, swatting one out of every six attempts.

Of course, those stats didn’t matter when the lost 75-65 to Memphis last game, the first time in 14 contests they had allowed an opponent to hit the 70-point plateau.

Jwan Roberts had a monster game in the loss, tallying 12 points, 20 rebounds and three assists. Houston was missing leading scorer Marcus Sasser (groin), and he’s still listed as questionable Thursday.

Northern Kentucky vs Houston Prediction

The Norse are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games, while the Cougars are just 1-5 ATS in their last six overall.

There’s really no chance the 1-seed loses to the 16 here — and it’s only happened once in the previous 136 games — but dabbling in 20-point spreads is never an enjoyable experience.

Instead, let’s look at the very low total, an homage of sorts to the type of defense both teams can play.

Even though it has been vs lesser competition, Northern Kentucky has only been held under 60 points in two of their last 19 games. If Houston comes even close to their season scoring average, this total gets blown out of the water.


  • OVER 122.5 points (-110)
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